Friday, February 28, 2020

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Sukma syndrome

Written by Prakash Singh |Published On: April 26, 2017 12:00 Am

CRPF personnel carrying the body of a martyred jawan after the encounter in Sukma.

The disaster at Sukma, where 25 CRPF jawans lost their lives, represents multiple failures at different levels. Starting from the top, it is inexplicable that the post of Director General of the CRPF should have been kept vacant for more than 50 days. A disciplined force always looks up to its leader for guidance and direction, and his absence creates a sense of uncertainty in the ranks. Keeping India’s lead counter-insurgency force of more than three lakh personnel headless was, to say the least, avoidable.

It is also incomprehensible that there is no clarity yet about the strategic approach to the Maoist problem, even though the Indian state has been battling it for the last 50 years. Shivraj Patil, Union home minister in the UPA government, in a statement on April 24, 2005, described the Maoists as “our brothers and sisters”. The Maoists took full advantage of this approach to augment their strength and build their firepower. In 2006, a 14-point policy was announced which inter alia talked of addressing the problem simultaneously “on political, security and development fronts”. The policy, however, never got implemented on the ground.

The next Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, summarised government policy in three graphic words in 2009: “Clear, hold and develop.” It was a cryptic enunciation, but was executed by a massive deployment of the Central forces in the affected regions. His approach was, however, not shared by everyone in the Congress. Digvijaya Singh openly criticised Chidambaram. As a result, the security forces felt hamstrung in their operations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2014, giving Nepal’s example, called upon the misguided youth of the country to shun terrorism and Naxalism and opt for peace and brotherhood instead. During his visit to Dantewada on May 9, 2015, the prime minister again called upon the Maoists to shun violence and said, “only plough on shoulders can bring development, not guns”. These were unexceptionable statements, but there should have been a strategic formulation by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

In the absence of any clear-cut guidelines or directions from the Central government, every state government has been dealing with the problem as per its own assessment of the situation. There is no coherent strategy or plan.

The Chhattisgarh government has not covered itself in glory while dealing with the Maoist problem. The state has witnessed the highest level of Maoist violence in the country. It has not extended the kind of support it should have to the Central armed police forces, which, more often than not, are left to fend for themselves. In the Sukma incident, 25 CRPF personnel were martyred, but there is no information yet about injuries to state police personnel. Either they were not there or were in very small numbers. It is said the CRPF personnel were attacked by about 300 Maoist guerrillas. Obviously, these Maoists must have been in the area for a couple of days. How did the local administration and intelligence have no scent of their presence? Such an intelligence vacuum is inexcusable.

The 74 Battalion personnel also seem to have made serious tactical mistakes. It appears they were having lunch together and huddled in one place. This explains the heavy casualties suffered by them. Forces sent for counter-insurgency must have first-class leaders, first-class weapons and first-class training. The CRPF in Sukma appeared to be lacking in the required level of training and leadership. What is particularly galling is that it was in Sukma, on March 11 that 12 members of another CRPF road-opening party were killed in an IED explosion. Apparently, no lessons were learnt.

The fact also remains that there has been a significant drop in the volume of Maoist violence. A decade ago, Chhattisgarh reported 350 killings, among them 182 security forces personnel, 73 Maoists and 95 civilians. In 2016, the figure had dropped to 207 fatalities, which included only 36 security forces personnel, 133 Maoists and 38 civilians. At the all-India level, the geographical area under Maoist influence has shrunk drastically. In 2010, when the movement was at its peak, 223 districts in 20 states across the country were affected by Maoist violence. Today, the figure has come down to 106 districts in 13 states. Several members of the CPI (Maoist) central committee and politburo have been neutralised. The Maoists are in tactical retreat. This is, however, not to deny that they retain the capacity to launch lethal strikes. Besides, they have, in the past, shown enormous capacity to reorganise and reinvent. Clearly, there is no room for complacency.

Chhattisgarh, however, has been sluggish in building the capacities of its police forces. There are about 10,000 vacancies in different ranks in the state police. Twenty-three sanctioned police stations have yet to be set up. And, shockingly, there are 14 police stations without any telephone link.

A fundamental flaw in the anti-Maoist operations today is that the state police forces in most states — undivided Andhra Pradesh was a singular exception — are heavily dependent on the Central government. The mindset seems to be that Maoism is the government of India’s problem and, therefore, the Central forces should bear the brunt of extremist violence. The great lesson we learnt in Punjab was that until the state police makes a frontal attack on the terrorists/Maoists, the battle would never be won. State governments must realise that it is their battle: They have to lead and the Central forces are to play only a supportive role. Once this transformation in mindset takes place, the tide will definitely turn.

The security forces’ efforts will, of course, have to be supplemented by appropriate socio-economic measures to address the legitimate grievances of the tribals and draw them into the mainstream.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Maoists’ urban perspective: an analysis

Maoists’ urban perspective: an analysis
Uddipan Mukherjee

Incalculable harm was done to the Naxalite movement of the late 1960s and early 70s due to the wrong strategic evaluation of the leaders of the insurrection at that time. Their defective understanding of urban warfare and penchant of initiating a bloody confrontation with the administration in the cities led to their abysmal show. However, after the grand merger of the two major Naxal splinter groups in 2004, a series of bulky documents from the side of the Maoists have made their way into the public domain which speaks volumes of their refined doctrinal position vis-à-vis strategy and tactics, especially for urban areas.

Out of those documents, two merit serious attention and analyses. The first, the ‘Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution’ or STIR was prepared in September, 2004. The other came out three years later, the ‘Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas’ or UPUA. In the backdrop of a recent spate of arrests of Maoist activists from urban areas and cities; it appears that a re-reading of the two documents to decipher the long-term strategy of the Indian Maoists has become a necessity.

In STIR, the Maoists stress on the large concentration of the petit bourgeoisie in urban areas of India. It is no wonder that the rebels are still basing their revolutionary tactics on the lower middle class of the Indian society as the French had done on the Sans-culottes in 1789. Further, in STIR, they write with Marxian moorings: “We should not forget the dialectical relationship between the development of the urban movement and the development of the armed agrarian revolutionary war.”

The Maoists admit through STIR that: “In the absence of a strong revolutionary urban movement, the growth of the people’s war will face limitations and difficulties in its advancement”. The pressing question in this context is how the urban work of the Maoists will aid and abet their ongoing rural insurrection?

The answer, though stated in STIR itself, is far more conspicuous and resolute in UPUA of 2007. The document reads thus: “Working class leadership is the indispensable condition for the New Democratic Revolution (NDR) in India. Working class has to send its advanced detachments to rural areas.” [Section 3.1.1, p 17, UPUA]

Thus, being the centres of concentration of the industrial proletariat (industrial workers), urban areas play an important part in the political strategy of the NDR. The task of the party in urban areas is to mobilise and organise the proletariat in performing its crucial leadership role.

According to the Indian Maoists, as written in UPUA, “the specific characteristics of revolutionary war in India is to determine military strategy as that of protracted people’s war – of establishing revolutionary base areas first in the countryside where the enemy (read the government) is militarily weak and then to gradually surround and capture the cities which are bastions of the enemy forces.”

Thus it is clear from the Maoists’ document that the armed struggle and the movement in the rural areas will play the primary role; whereas the work in the cities will play a secondary role, complementary to the rural work.

In fact, the legendary Chinese leader, Mao Tse-tung had said: “the final objective of the revolution is the capture of the cities, the enemy’s main bases, and this objective cannot be achieved without adequate work in the cities.” The charismatic Che Guevara too opines: “The importance of the urban struggle is extraordinary.”

The Maoists assess that presently, India has a larger proportion of the population in urban areas and a much larger working class than at the time of the Chinese revolution. This increases the relative importance of urban work in the particular conditions of the Indian revolution.

Nevertheless, in cities, the counter-insurgency state forces are very strong and hence the Maoists are careful while establishing bases. Nevertheless, since a steady supply of urban cadre is necessary to fulfill the needs of the rural movement and to fuel the protracted people’s war, establishment of urban bases is imperative for the Maoists. [Section, p 65, UPUA]

Urban guerrilla war is far-off

The main challenges that the Maoists face in the urban areas are:

1. Democratic party-system is well entrenched in the cities and urban areas and hence it is extremely tedious to dent the political ethos in cities and towns.

2. Extremely strong administrative machinery exists in these regions and thus counterinsurgency repression assumes gargantuan proportions.

3. The trade unions, which are potential fertile regions of fomenting dissatisfaction amongst the urban proletariat; already has established political parties ensconced in.

4. The presence of the Maoists in key industries like defence production, telecom, etc is poor.

Undoubtedly, an urban base provides logistical support to the armed struggle, i.e. technical and medical help. It further helps to send cadre to rural areas. The Maoists also plan to infiltrate into enemy organisations like the police, para-military and military in these populous regions. They attempt to do so by conducting propaganda warfare; viz. upholding the problems of the ordinary constables and soldiers.

A favourable condition exists in the urban areas of India for the building of broad mass fronts against the state structures. At least that is the evaluation of the Indian Maoists as articulated through UPUA. It may be inferred that the Maoists are venturing into the Indian cities with obvious intentions of solidifying and extending their networks and in addition to that, they are in the process of colluding with other terrorist outfits based in the Northeast, Bangladesh and Nepal, which have grave security implications for the Indian state.

In STIR, the rebels stress on forming secret party units in the bastis and slums of the urban areas. Their main focus is that of mass political mobilisation by inculcating the leadership qualities in the urban working class: the real class, according to Karl Marx, which possesses the ‘consciousness’ of revolution.

The Maoists have realised their folly in the early part of their revolution when they used to use drastic measures and have regular showdowns with the police in the urban areas. Hence, they warn their comrades in STIR: “we cannot and should not, at this stage of the revolution, organise for armed offensive with the state in the urban areas…..”

They accord special emphasis on small towns, small mining centres and areas in the vicinity of their base areas and guerrilla zones. They focus on the formation of both open and secret defence teams to resist state repression.

Party structure in urban areas

The basic task of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) in the urban domain is to deal with the problem of coordination between open and secret work. Another chief component is to retain contacts between city organisation and leadership in the rural areas – the heartland of the insurgency.

In urban areas, they seem to, as per STIR, adhere to the principle of ‘political centralisation and organisational decentralisation’. That is, their Central Committee contemplates small squad-level groups which would be mature enough to take decisions independently, but along party lines. The squad leaders need not refer to the party high command for all minor issues and day-to-day work.
In UPUA, they acknowledge that their party’s work and organisation in the cities/towns is extremely weak and generally cannot achieve a dominant position till the final stages of the people’s war. This ‘objective reality’ forces the Maoists to determine a ‘mellowed-down’ long-term policy for urban areas.

However, there have been arrests made by the Indian Police (between 2007-11), of prominent Maoist leaders from cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nasik, Kolkata, Chandigarh and other urban areas. These point to the fact that the ultras are spreading their wings in cities, more so, after the publication of the UPUA.

So, what is the long-term strategy of the Maoists with regard to urban areas?

1. They would hardly adopt a short-term approach of direct confrontation with the state forces in order to achieve ‘quick results’.

2. Thus, the threat perception to Indian cities in the form of what we face from the cross-border terrorists is highly unlikely.

3. Urban terrorism accompanies a substantial amount of collateral damage. That acts as a dampener for the Maoists to go for a Lashkar-esque operation in the cities because such sporadic and wanton acts of terror would create disconnect between the left-wing ultras and the masses: a situation they totally detest.

4. The Maoists are concentrating on a long-term approach of solidifying their bases in the urban areas.

5. If at all they have a short-term goal; that has to be to use their urban bases in supplying spare parts, medicines, arms, recruits and ideologues to the rural guerrilla zones.

6. To further the military objective of the revolution, the Maoists are and surely would strengthen their cyber-warfare strategy.

7. Propaganda through student-worker organisations would be the mainstay of their strategy for the time being.

8. Their rural insurgency is in the stage of strategic defence. So, they would very likely continue the above discussed strategy in the urban areas till the rural insurgency reaches the stage of strategic offense.

9. Till then, the Maoists would try hard to penetrate the white-collar employees, intellectuals and youth so as to bolster their insurgency.

Evaluating the Iraqi insurgency (2003-06), Major Edward Brady in his thesis submitted at the Maxwell Air Force base, Alabama in June 2008; rightly assesses that urban areas provide access to the insurgents to soft targets that could be attacked by small cells. Moreover, easy sanctuaries are provided to the insurgents to thrive in the cities. However, we may safely hypothesise that keeping in mind their historic failure in the 1970s, the Maoists would be reluctant to enact a Baghdad-type insurgency in Indian cities at this stage of their revolution.

Nevertheless, it always could happen that if the top leadership of the Maoists is annihilated by targeted killings/incarcerations, then a breakaway faction could unleash ghastly acts of terror emulating the cross-border militants. That will probably be a cost which we might have to incur in return of the decimation of the insurgency.

In the meantime, police ought to step up its human intelligence network and continue to nab the urban outfits of the Maoists as they had been doing for some time recently. Panic buttons need not be pressed right now. But cognisance must be made of the fact that the spread of the Maoists in the sprawling towns and cities of India could shape up as a major destabilising parameter in the future.

Dr Uddipan Mukherjee holds a doctoral degree from TIFR (Deptt. of Atomic Energy, India). He writes on strategic issues.